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A business plan, Simplified

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Stonington - For the two engineers who came together late last year to form Simplified Energy Solutions at Taugwonk Spur Business Park, tinkering with a lithium-ion battery one minute and burning a concoction containing kitty litter the next is all in a day's work.

Joel Douglas, who has 90 patents to his name and formerly ran the company Mystic Technology Partners, joined with business partner Michael Curtis last November when they realized that the work they had been doing was so intertwined it really proved inseparable. Besides, Curtis, as chief executive officer, thrives as the front man of the organization, making presentations and negotiating business deals, while Douglas. as chief technology officer. enjoys staying behind the scenes, puttering with his inventions.

"The fun is in understanding what the product need is," says Douglas. "We don't do anything until we study the market."

In the case of the company's latest product, the market needed a lithium-ion battery that could be shipped safely for military and commercial markets. Douglas's design keeps the company's battery safe for shipping, while calling for customers to perform a simple plug-and-slide maneuver to engage the battery and put it into use.

The batteries are big enough to run any smaller vehicle, including forklifts, the partners say, but are not suitable for cars or trucks.

"It's a huge market," Curtis says.

A solar battery charger that Douglas developed with Bill Guevremont of Mystic Technology Partners and produces in partnership with another company is in use at three golf courses in Florida, as well as at Lake of Isles near Foxwoods Resort Casino. The solar-panel devices, which are available on eBay for about $600 - half the cost of most similar chargers - can power a cart for more than 72 holes of golf, Douglas says, and extends battery life by four to six years, significantly cutting the cost for batteries that often must be replaced every two years.

Improving on products on the market is a major driver as Douglas and Curtis seek to create niches in the alternative-energy field. That's how the pair - Douglas the engineer with experience in electrical systems, medical devices, conductive materials and meters and Curtis with an environmental and chemical background - hit on the idea for an alternative product that can be used on the pellet-fuel market.

To test the pelletizer concept that he came up with to create a new product that would be more efficient and cheaper to manufacture, Douglas burned kitty litter one day at the company's Stonington laboratory, which created a foul odor but eventually led to an exciting new fuel that the pair are spinning off as a separate company, Engineered Carbon Solutions. The pellets, currently produced on site, are made of waste paper, coal dust and biodiesel fuel.

"It's a very green product," Curtis says.

"It's an eco-fuel," Douglas adds. "One hundred percent made in the U.S."

The pellet market is growing at a rate of 10 percent a year, Douglas says, and response to the new product has been so heartening that the company has signed agreements to test the pellets in a few stores this winter and plan to create a small-scale manufacturing plant with five to six employees somewhere in the region.

"Everywhere we've gone we've created a buzz," Curtis says. "There's no really new products in that realm."

While pellet fuel and lithium-ion batteries are the company's two most advanced pipeline products, Curtis and Douglas have other ideas up their sleeves, including a way to cut air conditioning costs using solar dehumidifiers. Douglas figures the new system, which he is developing with another company, will save about 20 percent on air conditioning costs by reducing the amount of moisture in the air that is circulated.

"It's very innovative," Curtis says. "It's a game changer."

Curtis says the pair, "serial entrepreneurs" who are always open to partnering possibilities primarily in the energy field, are also studying the waste-water industry, since it is the single largest industrial energy user in the United States. The idea would be to see whether any of Simplified Energy Solutions' technologies could help reduce costs at waste-water plants.

"There's all kinds of things happening in the sludge world," Curtis says.

The two scientists sometimes invest their own money in developing new products, but the pair say entrepreneurs tend to be risk-averse and prefer using other people's capital, spreading the risk. So most of the company's new products are launched using venture capital or so-called "angel investors," who get a stake in the companies that Curtis and Douglas spin off.

Douglas has been doing this for years, creating blood glucose monitoring devices, high-density discs and a conductive-ink process along with many other products. But for Curtis, who previously had been with an engineering consulting company, the entrepreneurial atmosphere is an exhilarating new experience.

"I'm having a blast," he says.

l.howard@theday.com

BUSINESS SNAPSHOT

Simplified Energy Solutions

Headquarters: Taugwonk Spur Business Park, Stonington

Principals: Joel Douglas, Michael Curtis

Employees: 4 full-time, 1 part-time

Founded: November 2011

Website: www.simplifiedenergysolutions.com

Phone: 860-924-5700

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